When Zen Master Joshu was a young monk he asked his teacher Nansen “What is the Way?” His teacher replied “Your ordinary mind is the way”. By “ordinary, Nansen meant the mind Joshu already had; he did not need to turn it, or himself, into something else. Unfortunately, these days when we hear the word ordinary, we are inclined to think that it means “average or typical” or even “mediocre”. We contrast ordinary with special and decide, given the choice, we would rather be special. But our practice wont make us special; it will keep bringing us back to who we are already.
There is great practical wisdom in understanding how the mind creates boundaries of concern and interest, and how we can work with these. Of course there are boundaries; there are other beings on earth. But what counts is how those boundaries are maintained, opened and closed.
When we consider otherness — the way beings are different from us — we can feel either insecurity, ‘How does she compare with me?’ or contempt, ‘You’re not as good as me’; or fear and intimidation, ‘You’re better or stronger than me.’ Or, we can feel adoration/attraction — ‘I want to be bonded to you.’
These immediate assumptions are called ‘conceit’: that is, we conceive of people as worse, better or the same as us. The effect is that the mind’s responsiveness gets stuck.
Caught in the conceit of self-view, the heart doesn’t extend its boundaries of appreciation and concern.
We take each other for granted as ‘my wife,’ ‘my boss,’ ‘my teacher’; and that fixing of them freezes our sensitivity. In that state, the heart easily tips over into complaining about the other not being the way they ‘should be’ (or rather the way I want them to be), and so the heart becomes a breeding ground for ill-will.
Ajahn Sucitto, Parami: Ways to Cross Life’s Floods
Living in a world focused on what is outside us, and not looking within, we are taught from a young age that we need to become something more than we are right now. We are encouraged to always be doing: we must learn; we must buy; we must acquire and achieve. And for absolute certain we must become better than we are right now just sitting here doing nothing. The Buddha taught the opposite. He said that by learning to let the mind be, just as it is right now, all our good qualities can unfold from within.
When you are identified with your mind, you cannot be very intelligent because you become identified with an instrument, you become confined by the instrument and its limitations. So, use the mind, but don’t become it . . . The mind is a beautiful machine. If you can use it, it will serve you; if you cannot use it and it starts using you, it is destructive, it is dangerous. It is bound to take you . . . into some suffering and misery . . . Mind cannot see; it can only go on repeating that which has been fed into it. It is like a computer…Remain the master so that you can use it; otherwise it starts directing you.
Just listen to whatever surrounds you. Sound is a good object of meditation because we generally do not try to control it as much as we do other things. People often have a more difficult time settling into their bodies than they do paying attention to the sounds that appear naturally. Just listen and try to let whatever sounds are around you pass through you.
The fundamental purpose of meditation is not to create a comfortable hiding place for oneself; it is to acquaint the mind, one a moment-to-moment basis, with impermanence….When the mind is settled, the underlying ephemeral nature of things can be more clearly perceived. Resistance diminishes, the flight to past and future recedes, and the sense that it might be possible to respond consciously rather than react blindly to events begins to emerge.
Mark Epstein, Advice not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself